I have challenge the conclusions of Cllr Mike Powell about Leighton Andrews’s scrapping of region education consortia two months after founding them as evidence of a knee-jerk reaction in the Pontypridd Observer (Your views, December 6).
As a former Labour Party member in Pontypridd and a scientist I have to say Mr Andrews’s approach is a refreshing change. Mr Andrew’s has ideologies like nearly all politicians but has shown he is willing to respond to evidence if they don’t work as planned. In my 14 years as a member of the Labour Party, I met few people willing to be evidence driven. I was gulled like most people that Tony Blair’s Labour Party would be pragmatic in government – in most cases it was not.
Anyone who runs a business knows that if you are trying something and it doesn’t work, you need to try something else in order to be successful. Leighton Andrews deserves respect for admitting he made an error from my point of view and not criticism.
Being a “four-nation Briton” I think Carwyn Jones’ view that the current constitutional settlement is no longer sustainable is absolutely correct (“Carwyn Jones: Referendum deal proves UK status quo ‘unsustainable’“, Oct 16).
If one considers that the Welsh Government’s powers to make English and Welsh equal in the Assembly were challenged by the Welsh Office recently then a “devo-max” outcome is what is needed as a minimum.
I’m not convinced, however, with the conclusion that to have a united Britain requires the United Kingdom. Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg exist quite peacefully within the European Union as independent sovereign states, why can’t the four British nations do the same? From a constitutional point of view I think independence for Wales is the right thing to do in theory, even though I expect it would not be what I would like in practice.
An independent Wales would no doubt be run by the same state socialists it is now, meaning we would be constantly relying on the EU for hand-outs. But that is the price of true democracy – which is to govern ourselves.
Ron Davies famously said, “Devolution is a process and not an event.” Since May 2011 Wales has had primary legislative powers – one of the first steps to full autonomy over its own affairs. If Wales is to become independent, including as part of a British Isles Customs Union, in my view as a Masters of Economics and Social Science and former town and community councillor, a number of institutional changes need to occur. These institutional changes themselves will be a process and not an event. Many of my suggestions below are within the scope of the powers the Welsh Government has that were granted by Schedule 7 of The Government of Wales Act 2006. The only thing needed is the political initiative.
The central use of tax varying powers
Any independent country needs to be able to raise its own revenue. This need not be done using the income tax system as is often presumed. The Welsh Assembly has the powers to change the way local authorities collect tax through the precept. That is, the Welsh Government could change council tax to be based on something other than property band and force local authorities to give the tax they collect direct to them.
The creation of ‘The Bank of Wales’
An independent country needs its own central bank. Scotland is well placed to have this if it becomes independent as ‘The Bank of Scotland’ can issue Stirling bank notes. Wales needs the same right to do so. There is no reason why Stirling can’t be the Single British Currency, in the same way the euro is the Single European Currency.
I would say that a financial institution does not need to be a bank to issue bank notes. So it might be that the Principality Building Society, who I save with as it happens, could be given the right by the UK Government to issue bank notes and use the brand name ‘Bank of Wales’. Any Stirling notes Principality gets in from customers issued by the Bank of England, it could reprint under the name of ‘Bank of Wales’, perhaps using the same serial number of the one issued by the Bank of England, who they would simply have to notify.
Independent countries also need to borrow money, so this is a role Principality also could play. In the meantime, the Welsh Government could legislate to give some of its financial powers and those of local authorities and other public bodies to Principality where it would be best for these decisions to be made independent of politicians and civil servants. This could be decisions made over the spending of European funding, including that currently done by the Wales European Funding Office.
The creation of a ‘Welsh Court of Justice’
An independent country needs to be able to make decisions about the enforcement of its own laws. A Welsh legal system now exists, so any dispute of the interpretation of Welsh law should be decided firstly in Wales. This could be created in the first instance by the Welsh Ministers transferring their decision-making powers for ‘judicial-like functions’, such as the interpretation of its laws and policies to, for want of a better word, a Quango, which has the same public appointment procedures as other Courts in the UK. Any tribunals currently under the auspices of the Welsh Government could be transferred to this ‘Welsh Court of Justice’. This could include the Planning Inspectorate, SEN tribunals, etc. Final decisions currently made by Ministers, Civil Servants, Councillors, etc. that affect someone in Wales’s civil rights could be made by this Court.
The Chair of the conference opened the debate, describing the Better Governance for Wales document as a “blueprint for
taking devolution forward” and said that whether it is the correct solution can be tested by whether it will improve the lives of people in Wales and whether it will deliver better public services.
Rhodri Morgan thanked delegates for taking part in the consultation that led to the document, citing Oscar Wilde, “the trouble with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings”. He said that the conclusions that can be drawn from the
document is that the legislative powers of the Assembly should be enhanced, indicating that there should be greater capacity to make legislation in devolved areas.
Rhodri said that the status quo is not strong enough to deliver for the people of Wales, pointing out that under the current “legislative log jam in Westminster” only two out of three Bills get through Parliament because of the lack of time,suggesting that devolving primary legislative powers to the Assembly would remove a burden on Westminster. I think this is a strong and convincing argument for devolving primary legislative powers.
Rhodri also said that the Assembly is “delivering on democratising the quango state”, something which the TGWU delegate said was a “truly socialist step”. Ken Hopkins pointed out that democratising the quangos meant that the budget that the Assembly would be responsible for would be greater and therefore more Assembly Members would be needed.
There seemed to be a lot of support for an eighty member Assembly, particularly one that is made up of forty men and forty women, a proposal put by Ken Hopkins in his submission to the Richard Commission.
The other issue that seemed to receive a lot of support from delegates was that it should not be possible for candidates to lose in the first past the post election and win on the list system. Pat Brunker said that “it is an abuse of democracy to offer people two bites of the cherry” and as another delegate put it, “losers should not become winners”.
There seemed to be a strong support for retaining the first-past-the-post method as opposed to proportional representation (PR). There did not seem to be an appetite for the Single Transferable Votes system, which I got the impression many thought was PR method, when it is in fact a fairer form of first-past-the-post that still ties elected representatives to constituencies. This method of election is used within the National Union of Students and students young and old seem to understand how it works.
Peter Hain concluded the debate, saying that his position had to changed on whether there needs to be a referendum, indicating that he now believes it is necessary to have one. I think after listening to the arguments for primary legislative powers, my position has now changed in support of them in principle, but I think a lot needs to be addressed for it to work in practice.
Speaking to people after the debate raised several questions:
- What should happen to ensure that a Bill is properly scrutinised?
- Should the Assembly be able to repeal legislation?
- What can be done to ensure that the Conservatives do not get rid of the Assembly?
- Why is it that local councils have tax-varying powers but the Assembly does not?
With Simon Thomas dropping out of the Plaid leadership contest to support Elin Jones (Western Mail, February 6), the campaign should have become less of a one-horse race that Leanne Wood was guaranteed to win, but reading Elin’s “vision” on her website disappoints me.
Elin talks Wales down from the start, feeling she has to justify we are a nation.
She says our legal system is not a separate jurisdiction, that we can only legislate in a small number of areas, and that we have no tax-raising powers so are therefore a “quandary” with no “power and status”.
As a Master of Laws, I’d argue all of these are wrong. Since last May, Welsh laws have to receive Royal Assent from the Queen, which means that it is only a matter of time before a conflict between ‘Welsh law’ and ‘English and Welsh’ exists before the Supreme Court will have to determine whether Welsh law is to be treated on par with Scottish law.
In terms of tax-raising powers, the Assembly does have those. It can pass any law it wants on local government providing it doesn”t take away their law enforcement and civic responsibilities. This means it could decide to set council tax on a Wales-wide basis and order the local authorities to pay the tax they collect through the precept directly to the Welsh Government.
The Assembly is now a Parliament in all but name. Primary legislative powers are just that, and Elin needs to move with the times.
After March 3 in 2011, some or all of the Welsh voters will have cast thir vote yes, in favour if of the Assembly being able to make any law on any thing it wants. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, you don’t want any more rights taken away from you that governemnt after government has been doing, then you should vote no.
At the moment, if the Assembly wanted introduce a cogestion charge in Cardiff with CCTV picking up all the route the cars took, it would more than likey have to ask Wesminister first. A yes vote in March means they will no longer have to go Wesminister first, if they want to pass a draconian law that restricts the public’s freedoms. I know they are willing to do this – it happended to my family. They believed in deovoultion long before the rulling classes thought it might be a good way of jerrymandering the constution to make if difficult for party than another.
You could be right Carwyn, but without a second chamber, the Assembly will be able to pass any law it wants, even if it was not in a manifesto, and even if the pubic were against it. In Westminister, if the Government wants to pass a law th……at wasn’t in their manifesto.
My MP Owen Smith and prospective AM Mick Antoniw, went up to London to protest again the Government plans to increase tuition fees. The Lib Dem’s policy was to abolish fees, and many people voted for that policy.
What is stopping the Assembly, when it gets powers to make primary legislation in the same way Parliament has, introducing tuition fees for college courses, requiring identity cards to be presented in order for someone to use public transport; or requiring anyone earning over Â£50,000 a to pay for their healthcare instead of having it for free? If people vote ‘yes’ on March 3 the Welsh politicians can do all these things – if they vote no then Welsh politicians won’t have the same powers as their Westminster counterparts to take away more and more of our rights. If people vote ‘yes’ they will be opening up the floodgates to civil disorder and mass protests, when the power goes to the Welsh politicians’ heads and they become just as authoritarian as the successive governments in power at Westminster than I have witnessed during my lifetime.
The recommendation of the Richard Commission to give the Assembly tax-varying powers should be welcomed, especially if this means there could be lower taxes for small businesses and low-income workers.
However, the call for primary legislative powers would do nothing to improve life for people in Wales and would in fact be a burden on resources that could be spent on health and education.
An Assembly based on the Scottish model would reuire more civil servants, more Assembly Members and more
of our taxes spent on bureaucracy.
In the long term, this would lead to less Welsh MPs, poorer œuality legislation through by passing the Lords
and less time for AMs to spend helping their constituents.
William Dylan was right to emphasis the need for a second chamber in Parliament (The Western Mail, February 24), but his suggestion of a Senate would not produce any better legislation than the House of Lords does now.
In 1999 we voted for our preferred party to form a draft of the Health (Wales) Bill in the Assembly, and in 2001 we voted for an MP to debate the specifics of this Bill in Parliament.
The last thing we want in 2003 is to elect another load of politicians to play party politics with a very important piece of legislation for Wales.
In my view a second chamber should be made up of experts to scrutinise legislation, people from the real world, with real knowledge and experience. In the case of the Health (Wales) Bill this would be health-care professionals, the people this Bill will affect and who know what its implications will be.
If we really want democracy in our legislative process then the people affected by proposed laws should be involved and not just politically motivated individuals.
It was unfounded for Chris McLaughlin to suggest that New Labour is out of touch with the electorate (Rules of Disengagement, Big Issue 304), especially when they delivered devolution to Wales.
The Assembly has made a big difference to young people, and listened to their concerns. On housing, landlords now have to register if they rent to multiple occupants and the poorest families now have grants to study at university.
Mr McLaughlin should realise that when powers over issues such as housing devolved to the regions, there will be desirable amount of disengagement government at Westminster as local politicians address local issues.
Plaid Cymru confirmed my fears that they want to turn the Assembly into a mini Westminster on Friday, when Janet Davies AM admitted to the University of Glamorgan Business School that she would like to see Wales have independent status with full law-making powers.
Assembly Members are currently able to spend two days a week helping their constituents and carrying out work in their communities.
If Plaid Cymru got their way, this time would have to be spent debating Parliamentary Bills and European Directives. The Assembly has shown that it can be very effective at policy delivery. Senior citizens and disabled people now have free bus travel, and more than 43,000 people in Wales will benefit from the Assembly Learning Grants this autumn.
We elected the Assembly Government toimprove our communities and standard of living. It is not its job to waste hours of time debating law when our MPs are more than capable of acting on behalf of us in Parliament. It would be madness to make any constitutional changes to the Assembly at a time when it’s beginning to show its relevance to the people of Wales